FLOWERY BRANCH — Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson says it was the kind of hit he will miss most when he retires.
It was the kind of hit that can be heard throughout a football stadium, even a loud dome. The kind that can be a game-changer.
When Curtis Lofton wrapped up Anthony Fasano without bringing the Miami Dolphins tight end down on Sunday, Peterson knew he had a special opportunity.
"Curtis hit him low on that play and when I saw (Fasano) up, it was one of those plays you can kind of explode on a guy," Peterson said on Monday.
The Falcons led only 7-0 late in the first half when Peterson’s explosive tackle knocked the ball out of Fasano’s hands at Atlanta’s 16-yard line. Atlanta cornerback Brian Williams returned the fumble recovery 53 yards to set up a field goal for a 10-0 halftime lead.
The Falcons won 19-7.
"There’s nothing like it," said Peterson when asked to describe the hit. "I think when I finish playing, I’m going to hate that I’m not going to be able to go to that little area, that little happy place that not too many people go. It’s a feeling you kind of cherish and you want to hold onto the rest of the night. It makes you want to get a couple more."
Peterson added a third-quarter interception of a Chad Pennington pass. John Abraham and Kroy Biermann each had two sacks, with Biermann’s first sack causing the first of the Dolphins’ three lost fumbles.
Atlanta’s defense had 10 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles last season, including just six fumble recoveries. The four forced turnovers against Miami are one-fifth of the 2008 total, and the three fumble recoveries are one-half of last year’s total.
The Dolphins scored their only touchdown with 3:22 remaining.
"I thought we were attacking the ball as well as we have since we’ve been here," coach Mike Smith said Monday. "I think it was evident by the turnovers, with the ball being on the ground.
"It’s something we knew we had to improve on. It’s something we’ve been preaching since the beginning of OTAs. We have to attack the ball with the hopes of creating more turnovers. This was the first fruits of the hard work."
The Falcons will play Carolina at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
Peterson, who played in Jacksonville the last six years after four years in Indianapolis, was the most notable veteran addition to an Atlanta defense. It is a younger unit after losing Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy and Grady Jackson from the 2008 team.
Defensive backs Erik Coleman and Milloy were two of the top three tacklers on the 2008 defense. That’s not a good sign, according to Smith.
The three starting linebackers — Lofton, Peterson and Stephen Nicholas — were the three leading tacklers in the win over the Dolphins.
"We like to keep those tackles in front of our safeties," Smith said. "That’s a definite. Unless you’re putting the safety in the box, you definitely don’t want your safeties to be your leading tacklers."
Smith said consistent penetration by the defensive line helped set up the linebackers to make plays. "Those guys stepped up to the occasion," he said.
Smith said his film review showed "the one thing that was very evident was the intensity and the effort were outstanding for the entire ballgame."
Added Peterson: "We’ve been preaching it the whole offseason, the whole training camp, ‘Play with a lot of intensity. Play with a lot of energy.’ We want to be one of the top defenses in the league. If you do your homework, you see the top defenses play with a lot of energy, all of them having fun. That’s when you cause turnovers."
And Peterson says the turnovers that come from the most explosive hits are the most fun.
"Once you experience that feeling," he said, "there’s nothing like it."NOTES: Rookie DT Peria Jerry left Sunday’s game with injured ribs. Smith had no update on Monday, though he said "I can tell you we came out of that game healthy." ... Smith said rookie safety William Moore (hamstring) is ready to "start practicing more" this week. ... The Falcons re-signed RB Verron Haynes, who was released by the team on Saturday. The team released CB Glenn Sharpe from the practice squad.